Humiliation: Former energy secretary slams government over risk of lights going out

"Iit’s nothing short of humiliating that we’re now worrying about keeping the lights on." (Source: Getty)

Former energy secretary Lord David Howell has ripped into the government’s energy policy, saying that Britain has fallen into a “humiliating” position.

Howell, who is also the father-in-law of chancellor George Osborne, told City A.M.: “We’re a great industrial country, we are the pioneers of coal and steam, and the leaders of the world and it’s nothing short of humiliating that we’re now worrying about keeping the lights on.

“You’ve got to overcome six or seven or eight years of past really serious error of policy, serious policy errors, which have led us to this situation.”

Howell cast doubt over the future of Hinkley Point, the troubled £18bn nuclear power plant project backed by a triumvirate of French firm EDF and the Chinese and British governments.

Concerns were raised last week when an EDF executive resigned following concerns about the cost of the project, and Howell said: “Almost six months ago I foresaw and do foresee that there are enormous problems with the sheer size and cost of Hinkley and that these problems will increase and they have now increased.

“It’s clearly going to need more support from governments, the company itself is just not able to cope with the burden.”

Margaret Thatcher’s former energy secretary said that with coal stations being phased out by 2025 and nuclear coming online “10 years beyond that”, the UK faces a huge energy gap.

“Wind can come on when the wind is blowing, and we can get up to quite a high percentage of green electricity, but there’s still a big gap.”

He also slammed successive governments’ attempts to address the country’s energy “trilemma” – reconciling affordability, supply security and decarbonisation – dubbing policy on this front a “failure”.

“We’ve got some of the most expensive energy in Europe, even more expensive than Germany. That hurts people, particularly the poorest, and hurts industry and undermines our steel industry. We’ve got the most unreliable system.”

Commenting on reports that the Conservatives may strip National Grid of its role as the UK’s power system operator in favour of Ofgem, Howell called the idea “risky”.

“That sounds a slightly risky idea. Just at the moment when we’re relying on the National Grid system to see us through the next three years without the lights going out. Anything that disturbs the momentum and dynamism of the National Grid needs to be looked at very carefully.”

A DECC spokesperson told City A.M.: “Our priority is crystal clear – to ensure our families and businesses have access to the secure, affordable and clean energy supplies they can rely on now and in the future.”

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